What are lessons like?

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In an Alexander Technique lesson, the teacher uses his or her hands to guide the student in various simple activities that test the student’s coordinations and give the student an opportunity to successfully practice different aspects of the Alexander technique.

Under the ordinary teaching methods, the pupil gets nineteen wrong and one right experience. It ought to be the other way around.

FM Alexander

For example, most people exhibit the habit pattern of tensing the neck when standing up from a chair or sitting down into a chair. In guiding the student in this simple activity, the teacher may informatively place his or her hands on the student’s head, neck or back and guide the student while giving verbal instruction about how the student can practice inhibiting and directing in order to inhibit the occurrence of the observed patterns. In this way, the pupil is enabled to have new experiences in familiar actions, opening the door for deep and long-term changes in coordination.

lesson chair

Lessons usually consist of a “Chair Turn” and a “Table Turn”

Chair Turn Lesson

A “chair turn” involves various activities using a chair. Alexander found that the patterns of undue muscular tension that can be observed in sitting and standing from a chair are also observed in most other activities. He also found that the ability to inhibit these patterns in the chair transfers to the ability to inhibit the same patterns and other activities. Thus, sit-to-stand and stand-to-sit are basic activities that serve as diagnostics for the student’s patterns of malcoordination, and also give excellent opportunity for the student to learn to apply his or her Alexandrian thinking in a safe, controlled setting.

You are not here to do exercises, or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it.

FM Alexander

As Alexander states above, the activities in a lesson are not exercises in the conventional sense, and are not interesting as ends in and of themselves. Rather, they give an opportunity to practice inhibition — as Alexander puts it, “not giving consent” to one’s habitual way of doing things. In other words, we are not interested in the action itself, but in how we carry out the action, learning to inhibit familiar automaticity and instead step into new, more efficient patterns of coordination (involving reduced co-contraction [[link]], in scientific terms).

Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus—but no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will, or will not, consent to.

FM Alexander

Table Turn

In a “table turn”, the pupil is typically lying down with the head on a few inches of books, the knees up and the feet flat on the table surface. With the student in this position, free from concerns about balance, the teacher continues to engage with the student by encouraging the student to inhibit his or her tendency to over tension in response to the teacher continuing to provide manual guidance to encourage the student to assume his or her full stature, albeit in a horizontal orientation. While table turns are often very relaxing, students are asked to stay alert, with eyes open, so as to associate their state on the table with more active activities in standing.

Practicing Thinking in Activity with the Help of Hands-on Guidance from Teacher

One important feature of lessons is “hands-on work”, which refers to the teacher’s skillful guidance of the pupil with the hands in different activities. The hands-on guidance serves several functions. The teacher’s hands

sense the pupil’s patterns of muscular activity in activity,
give sensory feedback to the pupil to enable understanding and inhibiting undesirable habit patterns,
inform a pupil’s total pattern of coordination by subtly suggesting a new organization of motor activity, and
guide a pupil in simple activities in a lesson, such as standing up from a chair.

In addition to the use of the hands, the teacher is keeping close watch for different clues, such as the eyes showing strain or overfocus, and holding the breath, to form a picture of the pupil’s pattern of coordination. On the basis of all of this information, and on the basis of his or her understanding of the pupil’s total pattern, the teacher decides an appropriate activity to most effectively address and inform the pupil’s understanding and coordination at that moment.

Clearly, in a group setting, the ability of the teacher to individually address pupils is considerably reduced, and this is why group teaching is not ideal in the Alexander technique.

Learning Principles of the Alexander Technique, Learning to Inhibit and Direct

At the same time as informing and guiding the pupil, the teacher will discuss principles of the technique in response to the pupil’s performance and practical understanding, as demonstrated in activities during the lesson. The teacher will offer clear procedures to enable a pupil to organize his or her thinking in response to the patterns observed.

For example, many pupils collapse or slump forwards, to a greater or lesser degree, without noticing, whereas others have become accustomed to holding themselves with what they consider to be “good posture”, which usually involves considerable overtension. The kinds of “directions” that the teacher gives to each of these pupils will be different, and will continue to change and evolve during the course of a single lesson and a series of lessons.

The same “thinking in activity” must be practiced outside of the lessons as well, and each lesson should provide specific things for the people to practice on his or her own.

To summarize, a lesson is an engaging “total-person experience” that involves practicing “thinking in activity” and is tailored for each student each lesson.

Please enjoy reading about the Alexander Technique on our website! Feel free to contact us for more information or to try out a lesson with an AmSAT-certified Alexander Technique teacher today.